What HTTP/2 Means for SEO

http2Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) has been the foundation of the World Wide Web’s data communication since 1999. Like most scenarios in the digital world, at 17 years old the original HTTP is beginning to slow down. Around this time last year, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) announced the completion of HTTP/2 that was set to be the first major update to the protocol since 1999.

Why is HTTP/2 better than HTTP?

HTTP/2 works with the existing web. It doesn’t introduce new methods, change headers or switch around status codes. The library is the same that developers would use for the original HTTP. However, using HTTP/2 will allow developers to “fine-tune” the protocol’s new capabilities making it even more efficient.

The first thing users might notice with HTTP/2 is faster load times on existing webpages. This is due to a new multiplexing feature that can deliver more HTTP requests at once. Multiplexing means requesting multiple files at the same time, rather than loading them one at a time. With more than half of all websites loading 75 or more files per page, multiplexing will help the performance of newer websites that typically rely on more files. HTTP/2 also adds header compression so that normal requests and response headers don’t dominate your bandwidth. This is especially important on mobile devices because on mobile, getting big request headers can easily increase page load time.

The original HTTP’s use of multiple connections added to network congestion. HTTP/2 is designed to use fewer connections which will take the load off of many servers and networks. HTTP/2 allows the use of a single connection per host and encourages sites to consolidate content on one host whenever possible.

What does HTTP/2 Mean for SEO?

Aside from faster page load time which will help provide a boost in organic search results, there has also been speculation around HTTP/2 being incorporated as a ranking signal in 2016. John Mueller, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, stated that Googlebot will support HTTP/2.

In January of this year, many updates happened with Google’s Core Algorithm (Read more here) and there is speculation that the inclusion of HTTP/2 being incorporated into the algorithm as a signal happened during that time. Even though technically HTTP/2 could affect your ranking since it could decrease page load speed.

For example, if we were to switch our blog homepage (www.451heat.com) from HTTP to HTTP/2, we could potentially load that page 1.03x faster.

How Do You Upgrade To HTTP/2?

Updating to HTTP/2 involves updating your server software. Ask your developers to use the load impact test to see if it would be worth it to switch, and check with your hosting company to see if they offer HTTP/2 support.  If they don’t, check to see if your host has support for SPDY as it could also help provide better speed to your website across the board and currently has more support than HTTP/2. SPDY (pronounced speedy) is an open networking protocol developed primarily for transporting web content. It manipulates HTTP traffic with the goal of reducing page load time and improving web security.

It’s hard to believe anything digital has lasted 17 years without change. If the changeover from HTTP to HTTP/2 happens seamlessly, we shouldn’t have to wait another 17 years for HTTP/3.

Melissa Sciorra

Melissa Sciorra, SEO Director. Follow her @mel_arroics!

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